Power Up Your Bones With Protein

Nutrition / Nutrition / July 22, 2014

Spinal Osteoporosis

Protein and bone health has been a hot debate and a common belief is that high-protein diets are bad for our bones.

But I’m here to tell you this is simply not true.

Past research indicated that high protein diets increase acid secretion and that your body neutralizes this acid by leaching from your bone matrix (consisting of sodium, calcium and potassium) and excreting it through your urine. [1] As protein consumptions goes up, so does the amount of calcium you excrete.

This seemed to explain why western nations have the highest rate of osteoporosis despite also consuming the most calcium.

But we now know that high calcium intake actually offsets the calcium excreting effects of protein.

Said differently, if your calcium intake is adequate, a high protein diet will not contribute to bone loss or osteoporosis. In fact,for stronger bones, higher protein is the missing link in most osteoporotic women.

Why Healthy Bones Need Protein

Protein makes up 50% of the volume of your bones and approximately 1/3 of their mass.

Protein intake also affects bone in several ways… [2]

  • It provides the structural matrix of bone.
  • It is reported to increase urinary calcium.
  • It is reported to increase intestinal calcium absorption.
  • It promotes Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which enhances bone growth and development.

Furthermore, factors that affect muscle anabolism, including protein intake, also affect bone mass. Bone health is not simply a skeletal issue; it is a musculoskeletal issue.

We all know that your bones are not made up of one thing. Rather, they are a matrix of vitamins and minerals working in unison to create the healthiest bones possible. But when you do not provide your bones with adequate amounts of each, the imbalance could lead to bone deterioration.

That’s why the widespread notion that high protein intake is ‘bad’ for your bone health is detrimental and must be cleared up. Adequate amounts of protein lead to bone health. It’s not that protein is ‘bad,’ it’s that protein without the matrix of bone building vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, is not necessarily ‘good.’

Calcium and Protein Work Together

We know that protein intake increases urinary calcium loss, but whether negative calcium balance results will depend on dietary calcium intake. In order for each nutrient to fully benefit bone, BOTH calcium and protein intake must be sufficient. Please don’t miss this. The best thing you can do for your bones is take adequate calcium and protein.

A study was conducted with 342 healthy men and women, over the ages of 65. Over the 3-year trial, half of the participants supplemented with calcium and vitamin D and half with a placebo pill. Associations between protein intake and changes in bone mass density were examined every 6 months by a DEXA scan. [3]

At the end of the trial, the researchers identified a positive association between dietary protein intake and change in bone mass density in those with the highest intake of protein, who supplemented with calcium and vitamin D.

Essentially, if a high-protein diet has a negative effect on your bones, it is only because of low calcium intake.

Don’t Shy Away From Protein – Your Bones Need It!

So despite the widely held belief that high-protein diets result in bone resorption and increased urinary calcium, higher protein diets are actually associated with greater bone mass and fewer fractures when calcium intake is adequate.

High-protein diets are NOT problematic for your bones. In fact, the opposite is true. Protein is a vital component to building strong and healthy bones. The key is making sure that your calcium intake is adequate to your protein intake.

So How Much Protein is Ideal for Bone Support?

The current guidelines for protein intake is identical for both older and younger adults and is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into consideration the changes that occur with aging. As we age, our body’s ability to process and function is not the same as in young adulthood. Therefore, you may need more of certain vitamins, minerals and in this case, protein, in order to maintain bone health.

Recent studies have shown protein intake for ideal bone support should actually be closer to 1.5 grams per kilogram and that consuming less than .8 grams per kilogram is too low.

If you are interested in learning more about bone health and protein, I’ve included some more information on this post in our blog.


  1. ^ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373952
  2. ^ http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1567S.full
  3. ^ http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/75/4/773.full

Author: Monica Straith, BS

Kathy S
Kathy S

Will you please comment on whole plant-based protein? Are legumes, nuts, seeds and grains an adequate source of protein? Thanks!

Jenna AlgaeCal
Jenna AlgaeCal

For sure, Kathy! We have a more recent blog post on protein that talks about plant sources here! It also includes a formula for calculating your protein needs based on your body weight, age, and activity level. 🙂

– Jenna @ AlgaeCal

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